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Depending on your buying habits and your drinking habits, you may never need worry about whether or not to keep a bottle of booze. But sometimes people do wind up with alcohol that may not be worth keeping: because they got something as a gift and never drank it, because their own drinking habits changed, because they inherited some bottles, etc.
At Unclutterer, we’ve touched on this subject before, but I’d like to provide more detailed guidance.
Two things can go wrong with beer.
Beer can get skunky — so it smells pretty awful, almost exactly like a skunk — if it’s exposed to light. Beer in brown bottles or in cans has good protection from skunking. And as the Beeriety blog explains, some beers that come in clear or green bottles use a hop substitute rather than actual hops, which means they won’t get skunky.
Beer also goes stale over time — more quickly if it’s not refrigerated. It won’t harm you, but it won’t taste all that good. How long does that take? As Chantal Martineau explains on Food Republic, one expert says three to six months for many beers; those with high alcohol content last longer. You can check for sell-by dates on the bottles, although they’re sometimes hard to see, and may use codes rather than actual dates, making things more complicated.
“Distilled spirits don’t go bad; they fade,” says Glenn Jeffers, writing in the Chicago Tribune. Unopened bottles of hard liquor like whiskey will last indefinitely, unless you store it horribly — like in a cedar chest, close to mothballs, or near a direct heat source.
What about an opened bottle? Ethan Kelley, an expert quoted by The Kitchn explains, “From a spirit geek standpoint, it’s good for 6-8 months — that’s the industry standard. For the average layperson, 8 months to maybe a year.”
But those old, opened bottles aren’t unsafe to drink from — although you may not want to. As Phil Vettel writes, also in the Chicago Tribune, “Barring contamination, liquor doesn`t go bad in the sense that meat or fish go bad. Liquor instead experiences a gradual decrease in quality; for example, an ages-old bottle of whiskey might develop, over time, a taste so unpleasant that you can`t drink it.”
Bottles with very little left in them deteriorate more quickly; these are the ones you’re most likely to want to pour down the drain.
These liqueurs will indeed go bad; some will note an expiration date on the bottle, so look for that. You can also check the guidance of the individual brands.
Baileys says of its cream liqueur, “Baileys … guarantees its taste for 2 years from the day it was made, opened or unopened, stored in the fridge or not when stored away from direct sunlight at a temperature range of 0-25 degrees centigrade. … Under normal conditions of storage Baileys has a shelf-life of 30 months.”
And Carolans says, “An unopened bottle of Carolans will last about 2 years on average, but this can vary depending on storage conditions — exposure to excessively hot storage conditions can adversely affect the shelf life. … All cream liqueurs are best drunk ‘young’ and should be consumed within 6 months of opening the bottle; refrigerate after opening.”
“What’s the worst that can happen?,” asks Michael Dietsch at Serious Eats. The answer? “Maggie Hoffman reports that the Baileys in her father’s liquor cabinet actually became solid after a decade or so.”
Consider taking a moment to assess your own liquor collection, before you ever get to a situation as sad as solid cream liqueurs.
Many people new to uncluttering will begin the process with a simple technique called “a thing a day.” (I learned about the method a few years ago in the Unclutterer Forum.) There are a couple of positive aspects to using this simple method in an effort to clear clutter. First, it’s not overwhelming. If you choose to focus on one thing, it’s likely to be a lot easier and quicker to complete every day. Second, it’s also a momentum builder. By doing one uncluttering activity each day, you get an opportunity to practice creating order, so that it feels like a typical part of your life, rather than a chore that you dread doing. And, as your space becomes free of unwanted items, you’ll be able to create a plan to keep it organized.
Another benefit of using ATAD is you can begin the process wherever you’d like. Your one daily thing can be retrieved from any room of your home. As this becomes a regular part of your routine, you might look for one thing in several or all rooms, though based on a recent study done by IKEA, you may want to start with your clothes closet. The results showed that despite the fact that the average person owns 88 pieces of clothing, only 25 percent of them are actually worn. This may be because most people are reaching for their favorite (or most comfortable) items frequently and leaving other pieces for another time.
If you find yourself in this situation, you can likely free up a bit of space by selecting specific articles of clothing that you hardly reach for as your first items in your ATAD journey. Sure, you’ll have some things that you may only wear on special (infrequent) occasions, but you may want to take a look in your closet for specific items that you haven’t worn in two seasons or more. You might want to focus on removing one thing every day over the course of several weeks so that you can systematically go through each piece of clothing.
Would you be surprised to learn that the same study also found that a large number of Americans say that having a laundry room is high on their wish list? As it turns out, that’s not the only room that they covet — just about any room with added storage capacity seems to be highly desired.
When looking for new homes, a whopping 93% of Americans want a laundry room, 90% want linen closets in their bathrooms, and 85% want a walk-in pantry.
That’s probably no surprise as many people often feel that a lack of storage is the root cause of overstuffed and cluttered spaces.
While changing the size of your closet (or adding more storage) can be a huge undertaking, selecting one thing that you can part with will be much less daunting. As you start thinking about how you might include ATAD in your day-to-day life, have a look at the rest of the IKEA findings.
Image credit: IKEA
Reader Theo submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
My daughter is in fifth grade with long hair and every *&*^%#! hair accessory you can possibly imagine. Our house is overrun with ponytail holders and barrettes. I threaten to cut her hair off in the middle of the night if she can’t find a way to keep all of these things on her head or in her room or bathroom. Her mother has short hair and is oblivious to my frustration. Help please. — Theo, who is tired of cutting ponytail holders out of the vacuum belt
Theo, are you actually a time-traveling version of my dad writing from the early 1980s? Your email hints of so many fights he and I had when I was a kid — except replace “ponytail holders” with “ribbon braided and beaded barrettes.” It gave me a shiver, actually, when I first read it.
Your email reminiscent of my father spurred me into taking a look at my current hair accessories (yes, adults have them, too) and admitting to myself I haven’t been doing a great job organizing them, either. Everything was crammed haphazardly into a basket in my linen closet and dozens of ponytail holders were on door knobs and drawer knob pulls throughout the house (out of reach of the vacuum, but still not in their proper place).
I decided to spend about an hour this past weekend getting these items under control and what I did might work for your daughter.
The first thing I did was round up all my hair doodads — I searched the house and also grabbed my disorderly basket out of the linen closet and poured it all on my bed. Next, I sorted by type. All ponytail holders were put into one pile, all hard headbands made another pile, all soft headbands made another one, then barrettes, bobby pins, hair clips, bun holders, etc.
After sorting, I threw out all items that were ready for the trash from each of the piles — broken or over-stretched ponytail holders, bent bobby pins, barrettes missing their back clips, etc. Then, I went through the piles again and pulled out any accessories that aren’t my style any longer and put those in a large envelope to send to my toddler niece who loves dressing up and doesn’t care much about current fashion trends at this point. What remained after these two purging cycles was manageable and so I didn’t need to do a third round, but your daughter might want to (these items she could give to friends if they’re in good condition and her friends are amenable).
I decided to recycle some items in my home for storage solutions for the accessories that remained. Since developing a gluten intolerance, I no longer have a need for a wheat flour storage canister. So, I washed mine out and repurposed it for my hard and soft headbands:
If you don’t have a container like this, I recommend heading to your pantry or local grocery store with one of your daughter’s headbands. Try them out on different food canisters — they usually fit well around oatmeal canisters. She can wrap the container in her favorite wrapping paper or contact paper to spruce things up a bit.
For ponytail holders, I repurposed an old pill travel organizer:
Again, if you don’t have one of these, a lot of different materials could work, even toilet paper rolls but you need to stuff them with something sturdy so they don’t collapse (wrap this one in contact paper — I don’t recommend wrapping paper for this project as it gets ripped pretty easily, but contact paper is much more sturdy).
I put bobby pins in an old box I inherited from my grandmother. Barrettes and clips went into zip-top bags until I find something else to store them in over the longterm:
My point in repurposing these items was to show that you don’t have to go out and buy something just for organizing her accessories. You probably have things already in your home you can use. If you want to spend some money, there are manufactured options available.
Thank you, Theo, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I’m also thankful for the motivation you gave to me to get my hair accessories in order. Be sure to check out the comments for even more suggestions from our readers.
Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.
Once the uncluttering is done and you’re deciding how to store the keepers, you may find you need some products to help you create an organized space. You might need bookshelves, file folders, a scanner, an inbox, some good hangers for the closet — any number of things.
How do you select your products? Most importantly, you want something functional, something that really meets your needs. Price is obviously a consideration, too. But what criteria do you use beyond that? The following are five recommendations for how to acquire the right organizing products for your needs:
Use something you already own
This saves money and it’s a green way to go. It can also result in some very personalized storage solutions. Many people have excess coffee mugs that could be used as pencil cups. I’ve taken a cat bed that my cats disdained and turned it into an inbox in my office. The pretty box pictured below? A friend used it to package a gift for me and now I use it to store my flossers.
Get something second-hand
Buy something at a thrift store or join your local freecycle community or other similar groups and get something there. Garage sales can be sources of incoming clutter, but, if you’re a wise shopper, they can also be sources of organizing product treasures.
I recently freecycled these drawers. I’ve also given away wooden hangers and lots of filing supplies. People in your local group may also be giving away organizing products.
Buy from stores that easily accept returns and exchanges
Even if you check the dimensions of your space, you may still find the item you’ve purchased doesn’t quite work for you. If you’re concerned this may happen, you’ll want to buy from a store where returns and exchanges aren’t a hassle.
Honor your personal values
Based on your ideologies, this may mean you buy from local stores or independent stores or individual artists. It may mean you buy from stores that are known for treating their employees well. Maybe you look for products manufactured in your own country, rather than abroad. Or maybe you look for products that aren’t over-packaged and are made from sustainable materials. Depending on how you feel about the research on plastic food storage containers, you may want to avoid plastics for anything going into the microwave.
Or maybe none of these things matter to you, and that’s fine, too.
Acquire things that delight you
Sometimes all you need is a basic plastic bin, but other times you may want something with more flair. In those situations, look for products that delight you with their design, their color, their silliness, etc.
Most of my bookends are just simple and sturdy, but I do love this rhino, and it helps me to get books back on the shelf after I reference them because I like looking at it.
This oversized mug is what I use to store my kitchen utensils. I bought it at a local craft fair about 20 years ago. It still makes me smile every time I look at it.
You’ve done it! Your home is uncluttered, with everything in its place.
But then, a few months later, things aren’t quite the same.
How do you maintain that organized space you so enjoyed? The following seven ideas will give you an edge and don’t rely on a magic wand.
Make it super easy to put things away.
Well, OK — it’s fine if your holiday decorations are stored in a place that’s a bit hard to get to. But, with things you use frequently, you’ll want to make it as easy as possible to put them back in their places.
Make sure the containers you use aren’t too full; strive to keep them at least 20 percent empty. Think about how hard it is to file things in an over-stuffed file cabinet. Other overly full containers are also hard to work with.
Consider containers without lids; consider hooks instead of hangers. If you have high shelves you need to access fairly often, have a step stool close at hand.
And, as much as possible, accommodate the way paper and objects naturally tend to flow through your home. If incoming mail gets dropped on the coffee table, put an inbox there. If coats wind up in a pile right by the front door, consider putting hooks or a coat tree in that area.
Make sure everything has a home.
Also, make sure that all family members who share putting-things-away responsibility know where those homes are. You can’t put something in its proper home if it doesn’t have one. Buying something new? Make sure you decide where it’s going to live in your home before you pay for it.
Share a file cabinet with another family member? Make sure you both agree on how things will be filed. I met a woman who filed the house insurance under the name of the insurance agent; her husband had no idea where to find it.
Don’t forget to label your storage containers, especially when it’s not immediately obvious what goes where. You can use pictures to label toy bins and such for young children, so they can help put things away, too.
Use good tools.
I spent way too much time pulling jammed paper out of my shredder before I invested in a new one. Now I’ve got one that works, and life is so much easier.
Look for file cabinets with full-extension drawers — where the drawers pull out far enough that you can easily get to the files at the back.
Develop a routine.
Maybe you and your child take 10 minutes to put toys away each evening. Maybe you sort out junk mail daily, and do your filing weekly. Figure out what routines work for you and your family and stick to them.
If finances allow it, consider hiring help.
Hiring a gardener or a housecleaner to take care of some routine tasks can free up your time for the things that only you can handle. If you have a small home-based business and hate doing the bookkeeping, consider hiring someone for this task, so you don’t get behind.
Or, maybe you have some projects sitting around that are creating clutter because they aren’t getting done — those shelves aren’t getting installed on their own and that thing you were going to repair isn’t getting repaired. It might be worth paying someone else to do those types of projects for you.
You could also consider doing a task swap with a friend. You despise doing Task A, but don’t mind doing Task B? Your friend is fine with doing Task A, but always puts off doing Task B? Maybe you can help each other.
Do a periodic uncluttering.
Tastes changes. Needs change. The lids to food storage containers get lost. Children outgrow things. Schedule some time, every once in a while, to make sure all the things you own are still things you want.
Set an appropriate standard.
Unless your home is on the market with potential buyers coming by any time or unless your home is being used for a photo shoot, immaculate is probably an unnecessarily high standard for daily living in your home. Keep your home safe, functional, and generally uncluttered — but don’t fret that it isn’t perfect. Perfect is an impossible continuous standard.
You know the annoying feeling of sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, for minutes on end, doing nothing while the doctor is running late? It can be aggravating. Oncologist Dr. James Salwitz recently published an article expressing a doctor’s perspective on this trial on our patience. He wrote about a normal busy day at his office — or what was a normal day, until this happened:
The 1:30, 1:45, 2:00 patients all arrived at 2:15 and suddenly I was looking at an afternoon that would run deeply into eve. I really hate it when patients are late. …
As an oncologist, I detest running late, because it means leaving people with cancer on their minds, stewing in my waiting room. Personally, I worry when I am waiting at the dentist for a cleaning. What goes on in the mind of someone waiting to see me?
This got me thinking about how much grief we can cause for ourselves and others when we find ourselves running late. Usually we just inconvenience people, but sometimes the implications are more serious. Laurie Perry shares a story about the woman who hit her Jeep:
After the crash she sat in her car, writing out her phone number for me, saying, “I was late for work.” I remember looking at her with absolute disbelief, thinking You almost killed me because you were late for work?
That line keeps coming back to me at the oddest times. I’ll see someone blow through a red light and hear that lady saying, I was late for work. And then I think, I hope they don’t kill someone just because they couldn’t bother to leave on time for work today.
What causes us to run late? Some people fall prey to underestimating the time it will take to get somewhere. That’s not my personal weakness. I’m what Penelope Trunk calls a “time pessimist”; I assume things are going to take longer than my first estimate. I’ve learned that Google Maps gives me an optimistic driving time. And I live in an area with minimal public transit and winding two-lane roads, where any traffic snarls lead to major delays — so I’ve learned to pad many minutes into my driving times.
Some people are hooked on the adrenaline rush of cutting things close. In her book It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys, Marilyn Paul notes that “there is a thrill in running late, postponing something to the last minute, or meeting a deadline by minutes. If you’re in your car, rushing to an appointment, you experience the exhilaration of trying to get through each traffic light.” She goes on to explain that there are better ways to get your adrenaline rush. But I don’t get a thrill from cutting things close — quite the opposite. I’m one of those people who is nervous enough about missing a plane that I arrive at airports ridiculously early.
I’m also not someone who tends to get held up because I’ve misplaced something. My house keys go on a hook by the front door. My Prius car keys and my wallet stay in my purse. I’ve got a tote bag that has everything I need for a certain weekly meeting. Sure, I will sometimes misplace something and have to scramble, but it’s a rare event.
Rather, when I’ve found myself leaving home later than I intended, it’s usually due to what Kathleen Nadeau calls one-more-thing-itis. I send one more email. I do one more seemingly tiny task. Then I hope there’s no traffic jam, because I’ve eaten up all my carefully planned buffer time. And I promise myself I’m never doing this to myself again.
But for many people, it’s difficult to develop the habits needed to arrive on time. For anyone who is chronically late and concerned about that, but is finding it hard to change, I’d recommend Never Be Late Again, by Diana DeLonzer, which presents “seven cures for the punctually challenged.” It’s a book filled with both humor and wisdom, from an author who has overcome this challenge herself.
Additional help: Hang something as simple as a removable utility hook near your front door or inside your coat closet to hold your keys every time you come into your home. Set alarms on your smart phone, watch, or Time Timer to remind you to get out the door when you need to. Time yourself doing regular morning activities (brushing your teeth, taking a shower, walking your dog around the neighborhood, getting dressed, eating breakfast, etc.) to see how long it really takes you to do these activities. As humans, we often underestimate how long things take us to do, and having a real sense of the time it takes you to get ready can help you plan your day better so you can get places on time.
You’ve uncluttered your home, and now you’re making sure everything you’re saving has its defined storage place. You’ll usually want to store the things you use most often in easy-to-reach places — but please make sure you’re also storing things safely. Here are some of the issues you’ll want to consider.
A recent study by Safe Kids found that parents know the importance of storing medications up and away from children — but emergency department visits for accidental poisonings are still increasing. What’s going on? Children are ingesting medicines found on the floor, in purses, in pillboxes, etc. They get into these medicines not just at their own homes, but also at the homes of grandparents or other relatives.
So when you’re looking at storage requirements, be sure to think about those pillboxes and purses. And, remember that pets can also get into medications.
For more information, check out the Up and Away website, which reminds us to put every medicine and vitamin container away every time you use it — even if you’re going to use it again in just a few hours.
Most everyone knows to keep things like pesticides and antifreeze in places where children and pets can’t get to them. But other hazardous products might escape attention.
For example, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a safety alert warning about the dangers of single-load liquid laundry packets. These colorful packets look like toys to children, but they often contain chemicals that are dangerous if ingested — so they need to be kept safely away from kids.
If you have pets, please be aware of the materials that may be toxic to them, and store those items appropriately. The Pet Poison Hotline has a detailed list of pet toxins for cats and dogs, including items like chocolate, matches, nicotine, and mothballs. Since so many foods can be poisonous to pets, you’ll want to be sure you have a pet-proof garbage can, one that’s tucked away where pets can’t get into it, or pets that are trained to never raid the garbage can.
Furniture, televisions and other heavy items
Living in earthquake territory, I’ve learned about the perils of toppling bookcases and other heavy items. The Dare to Prepare website reminds readers to tightly secure everything that could injure someone if it falls — as well as any fragile items you would hate to see damaged. The site provides information on how to properly secure bookcases, filing cabinets, etc.
But, until recently, I hadn’t thought about how easily children can get crushed if a television or a piece of heavy furniture were to fall on them — which can happen when a child reaches for something like a remote or climbs onto the furniture to get to an attractive item. The Georgia Department of Public Health has written about these issues, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission has a Tip-Over Information Center. Safe Kids has a report providing extensive information about the TV tip-over problem and how to avoid it.
Where do you store plastic bags? Do you dispose of dry cleaning bags immediately, in places where young children and pets can’t get hold of them? These bags can present a suffocation risk, so please handle them appropriately. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that you “tie plastic bags in a knot before storing them out of reach and out of sight” if you have children ages 6-12 months.
Being well organized also gives you the opportunity to be more safe in your home. Storing items securely and safely can help to prevent accidents.
“Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable.” — Francis Bacon, Sr.
It’s no secret that writing things down is beneficial in several ways. A mind that’s not trying to remember tasks is better prepared for problem solving and focusing on the present. Good ideas are fleeting and need to be captured, irrespective of when they happen. It’s important to have written goals and lists that can remind you of what you need to do. There’s more, of course, but I’m going to address that last point.
I’ve been keeping a to-do list in my pocket for years. For most of that time, it was a simple list of things I needed to do. That’s great, but I found problems. Notably, I’d feel guilty about tasks I couldn’t complete because of my circumstance.
For example, I can’t make progress on “get pants hemmed at the tailor” while I’m stuck at my desk. I can’t pay the registration fee for the kids for soccer while I’m standing in line at the DMV. Likewise, I often don’t have the energy or time available for more demanding tasks when I’m reviewing my list at the end of the day.
Looking at items I couldn’t take acton on was stressful. It was time to re-think the simple to-do list. The following are several ways to sort, organize and prioritize the items on your to-do list for easy reference and guilt-free productivity on the go:
Sorting by context
Step one was to sort by context. I know a lot of people dislike this idea, but hear me out on this. At the top of my to-do list, I’ll put a heading like “@phone.” Beneath it I list tasks that require a phone call. Next, I’ll put “@errands” and “@computer”. Appropriate tasks are listed under each one. That way, when I’m at my desk with some free time, I can look at “@phone” or “@computer” and hammer out those tasks. I don’t even see items listed under “@errands”, so I don’t feel guilty about not making progress on them. (David Allen refers to these location-based lists often in his writing.)
Time and Energy Available
Of course, context isn’t the only way to decide what you can work on at any give time. It’s smart to also consider your time available and energy available. When your fresh first thing in the morning, tackle those jobs that require much physical and/or mental energy. Reserve something less taxing, like filing receipts, for the end of the day or after lunch when you might have a dip in focus. Likewise, I don’t always have the time to lay out the new flower bed. But a free Saturday afternoon lets me do just that.
A few weeks ago, I came across Word Notebooks. My notebook addiction is legendary, so I could not resist buying a pair. They’re similar in size and shape to the Field Notes brand notebooks that I love so much, but offer something different.
Each paperback notebook has a “use guide” that’s printed on the inside cover and in the margin of every page. You’ll find a small circle around an even smaller circle. The idea is to highlight the importance and completion state of each item with these circles. Here’s how it works.
- Color in the inner circle to identify an item as a bullet point
- Highlight the outer circle to identify something as important
- Put a single line trough both circles for items that are in progress
- Draw an “X” over items that are complete
It’s tidy and offers an at-a-glance overview of the status of your to-do list. Unlike the context system that I use or the energy-available strategy, the Word notebooks visually arrange action items by priority and state of completion. Pretty nice! Of course, you don’t have to buy a special notebook with pre-printed circles. You could roll your own solution.
The Dash/Plus System
My Internet buddy, author and all-around nice guy Patrick Rhone described a system that he devised for keeping careful track of the items on his to-do list. His system uses plusses, arrows, and geometric shapes to denote the status of an action item. It’s clear, simple, and doesn’t require a special notebook.
Now I’ll turn it over to you. Do you keep a plain list or have you adopted a system like these? Let me know in the comments.
As an independent worker, I’m learning to be the manager, technician, and boss of “Dave, Inc.” I’m also a devotee of productivity tools (read: junkie) and I’ve tried most of the major systems, techniques, and software. By far, the most effective strategy I’ve adopted is also the simplest, and possibly the oldest: write things down. Not only does it reduce the stress of possibly forgetting something important, it also helps answer the question, “What should I work on now?”
I write things down all day, from capturing ideas to outlining articles and ideas. However, the most important list is the one I make right before bed.
Every night, I review what I’ve accomplished and what’s outstanding. Next, I write down the three most important tasks that I must complete the next day. This practice has two main benefits. First, it shuts off my brain. Tell me if this sounds familiar: your body is ready to go to sleep but your brain decides it’s party time! So it starts to review everything that needs to be done. Good times! When I’ve got those things out of my brain and committed to a list that I’ll see in the morning, the plug gets pulled on that party.
Second, it lets me avoid the overwhelming feeling of not knowing where to begin. Many of us have 10, 20, or more outstanding projects. It can be hard to know where to start when you have so many. Deciding before I sit down helps alleviate that feeling and provide direction.
Conversely, approaching the workday without a list of observable, clearly-defined actions creates one of two scenarios. Either you’ll attend to every distraction that pops into your mind and make insignificant progress on many projects, or you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time on a project that’s less critical than others.
Every night between 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., I review my project lists and pick the three mission-critical tasks that MUST be completed the following day. Then, I gather 5–6 other tasks that can wait a day but would be the icing on the cake if completed within the next 24 hours.
I then take a pen and a notebook and write them down. This simple practice reduces my anxiety tremendously, lets me sleep, and gives me direction in the morning. When it’s noon and I’ve completed all three critical tasks, I feel fantastic.
There are a huge number of tools available for creating such a list of actions. I use David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner. It lets me create a list, track how much time I actually spend on each (instead of my estimate), and gather incoming “stuff” as it shows up. It’s super useful.
Of course, most computers come with a quick note-type app. If you’re happy with just a bullet list, give it a try.
I’ve also started exploring these other programs:
The Pomodoro Technique. I use a modified implementation of this method. At its heart, it’s a way to alternate timed work sessions with break sessions. I work for 25 minutes straight and then take a 5-minute break. When the break’s over, I start again with another 25-minute work session. After three rotations, the break extends to 15 minutes, the I go back to 25 on, 5 off.
Mac users who want to try it out will love BreakTime. This unobtrusive utility lives in my Menu Bar and times your work/break sessions all on its own. Others should consider Focus Booster, a free, browser-based timer that looks great and works well.
Boomerang for Gmail. I usually check email at 9:00 a.m., noon and then 2:00 p.m. I, like so many others, had become a slave to the inbox and I don’t want to do that anymore. I use Gmail for a lot of work-related email, and Boomerang lets me schedule when I interact with it. I can determine when messages will be sent, but even better, select when I want to see certain messages. During my morning sweep, I can use Boomerang to remind me of certain messages while I’m processing email again at noon.
Like many of you, I’m still struggling with the best way to manage all of this. These practices and apps have helped quite a bit. If you’re doing something similar (or completely different), let me know.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been completing my three mandatory tasks by 3:00. It feels great.
Only order magazines you really want
Why would people subscribe to magazines they don’t want? Well, have you ever been approached by a child asking you to buy some magazine subscriptions to support the school band? It can be hard to turn down this type of request, but here are two ways to do it:
- Ask if you can just make a direct donation to the cause, rather than buying the subscription.
- See if you can buy a gift subscription that goes to a local library — after making sure the library would indeed appreciate this gift.
Don’t subscribe to a magazine just because you’re getting a deeply discounted price
J.D. Roth got those discounted subscriptions, and then discovered he was “paying $150/year for the added mental stress of having too many magazines around the house.” It’s never a deal to spend any money on something you don’t really want.
Be aware of what you’re subscribing to
Do you really want the magazines that come along with some memberships, like the Costco Connection and the magazine that comes from your auto insurance company?
In The New York Times, Bob Tedeschi writes about his “64 half-read New Yorker magazines” which he is “collecting as part of an extended experiment in self-delusion.” And in the Guardian, Tom Cox writes: “I keep on subscribing to The New Yorker magazine in the expectation of a lengthy, debilitating illness that will allow me to catch up on 15 years’ worth of issues I have hardly skimmed.”
Yes, The New Yorker has some wonderful articles, but it comes every week. Is a magazine like this going to be enjoyable to you, or just a source of when-am-I-going-to-read-this stress? A monthly magazine might be more your speed.
Cancel subscriptions to magazines you no longer enjoy
You don’t need to wait until the subscription expires to cancel a magazine; you can do it any time you wish — and maybe get a refund check! Magazines will have information on how to cancel in each issue, although it may be buried and in some pretty small type. Sometimes it’s as easy as filling out a form online, as with the Costco Connection.
But if you’d prefer to just let the subscription lapse, remember that some magazines do an automatic renewal — and be sure to respond to any notification that your subscription is about to renew.
Decide what to do with your magazines once you’ve read them
The answer here could be to donate them to others or to recycle them. You may have a good reason to keep some, too. You might want to scan selected pages, as Erin does, and then give them away or recycle them.
If you actually read the magazines you subscribe to, you still might want to stop the printed version from coming into your home. Some magazines are now available on DVD. For example, you can get 123 years of National Geographic on CD — and annual updates are available. Some other examples of magazines on DVD are Fine Woodworking and Threads. This might influence your decision on what to keep — or what to subscribe to in the first place.
Also, if you have a tablet or electronic reading device (like an iPad or Kindle), you can subscribe to many magazines digitally. Amazon, iTunes, and Zinio have subscription services for these devices. (Zinio is Erin’s favorite, but the other services are fine, too.)
Have you ever wondered why some decisions seem easier to make than others? Even when people appear to know what they want, making the decision to go in one direction or another can be complex. Sometimes having too many choices can hinder you. You might feel anxious because you don’t want to make the wrong choice and feel the accompanying regret. Whatever the reasons are that make deciding so difficult, there are some steps you can take to make the process at arriving at the best choice a little easier.
Decisions are not always as straight forward as they may theoretically appear. The process of making a particular selection can be tricky because your feelings can play a role what you end up choosing. Dr. Jennifer Lerner, Director of Harvard Laboratory for Decision Science, conducts research on how one’s feelings can affect one’s perception of risk and how emotions influence one’s judgement and ability to make decisions. Though it may seem that having a negative emotion, like anger, would cloud your outlook and therefore influence you to make a more negative decision, Dr. Lerner’s research appears to indicate the opposite.
Anger makes you optimistic and makes you perceive less risk than if you were in a neutral state, and it makes you take more risks. So for example, you’re more likely to choose a gamble over a sure thing when you’re angry. Anger does a lot of other things, as well. It makes you think more heuristically rather than systematically. It automatically activates relative left frontal hemisphere, which is associated with approach. So when you’re mad, it predisposes you toward believing things are going to work out your way, believing that you have some sense of control. It gives you a sense of certainty, makes you take more risks, perceive less risk, think less deeply, a whole series of choices.
Dr. Lerner also found that people who were feeling sad tended to spend more money when shopping than if they weren’t feeling any strong emotion at all. That said, you wouldn’t want to be feeling any emotional extreme as you are at the moment of deciding what action to take. Instead, consider engaging in activities that would get you back to a neutral state. For each person, that activity can vary so take a minute to think about the types of things that help to regulate your emotions (or keep them in check).
Seek an objective opinion
A public declaration can sometimes help you attain important goals you have set for yourself. You’ll often get encouragement from others to keep making progress. In a similar way, seeking the opinion of a non-biased, trusted advisor, friend, or colleague can give you a different perspective or validate your position. You may want to pick one or two people that you’ll consult with so that you don’t get stuck in the process. When too many people are involved, then it becomes a decision by committee. This would likely make the process take longer than necessary, so be strategic about the number of people you seek for counsel.
Analyze the potential outcomes
All decisions have consequences and it helps to know what they are (or could be) no matter which choice you make. Assess the pros and cons of each one and determine if the benefits outweigh the risks. Using a pro vs. con list can help you pinpoint the various aspects of each decision and help you to arrive at the best choice for you. You might also want to “road test” your options (when possible) and live as though you’ve already made a selection so that you see the possible outcomes. Doing this can also help you to solidify your intended goal (change careers, relocate, make a major purchase) and give purpose to the entire process.
Come up with Plan B
As you think through the possible directions you could go in, you’re likely to come up with some options that might qualify as your “Plan B” should you need an alternate option to fall back on. Knowing that you have a secondary plan should put your mind at ease in the event that you need to change course or if something unexpected occurs.
Today we welcome Jeri Dansky to our Unclutterer content team. She’ll have a weekly post full of uncluttering and organizing advice that is guided by her many successful years as a professional organizer.
What would happen if you became seriously ill and a family member or friend had to make sure you and your household were properly taken care of?
Of course, it’s wise to have a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care or the equivalents. (The specific documents you need will depend on where you live.) You’ll also want a financial power of attorney or whatever legal document provides a similar ability to manage your money on your behalf. Consider consulting with an estate attorney to make sure you’re prepared in this regard.
Even with these legal documents in place, you still have some preparation to do. Think of all the things someone would need to know in order to run your life on your behalf. Here are just a few:
- What medicines are you taking? Do you have any allergies? What immunizations have you had? What are the major events in your medical history: surgeries, etc.?
- If you have pets, what do they get fed, and when? Are they taking any medications? If so, where are those medications and how do they get taken?
- What’s the password to pick up your voice mail messages? How would someone check your email?
- Where is your calendar — and if it’s online, how does it get accessed? Are there any standing appointments that should be cancelled?
- Where is your address book — and again, how does it get accessed if it’s online? Who should be notified if there’s a serious problem?
- Do you have a post office box where mail should be checked? Where’s the key for the box?
- What regular bills get paid automatically, and which ones need to get paid manually? Will someone need access to your online bill paying systems? Will someone need the PIN for your ATM card?
- Is there a home alarm system? If so, how does it work?
- Are there any quirks about your home that someone should know about? For example, in my home, the switch for the garbage disposal is hard to find.
It may seem, at first, that pulling this information together only matters if you’re single — but actually, everyone could benefit by gathering this information and sharing it with trusted people. Sometimes, one spouse or life partner doesn’t know everything the other one does. And, there are scenarios where both spouses or partners would need help at the same time.
It’s natural to avoid thinking about the chance of anything bad happening to us — but it’s a real kindness to your friends and family to take the time to pull this information together, just in case it’s needed. I remember being in the emergency room with my mom, filling out the hospital admission forms and trying desperately to remember if it was her left hip or her right that got replaced some years ago. When Mom had surgery and was away from home for weeks, I was glad I knew all the little things to do, such as canceling her weekly appointment at the beauty salon. While it wouldn’t have been a tragedy if I didn’t cancel that appointment, it was a nice courtesy. It also comforted my mom to know I’d be taking care of such things for her.
When you’re looking for inspiration and motivation to accomplish a goal, it can be helpful to look for analogies or similar features with other topics. Doing this can also reinforce the purpose of a goal or even help you to see things a little differently. You’ve probably noticed that losing the weight of clutter is often associated with losing those extra pounds that can creep up on your body. I once likened clutter to armadillos and, recently, it seemed to me that uncluttering can be a lot like running. Both require discipline and strong commitment if you’re to accomplish the results you’re looking for. Often, the tips given to people who are just starting a running program can also be applied to becoming more organized.
Create a plan with action steps
New runners can benefit from setting particular goals they want achieve each time they go running (distance, specific pace) as well as time-based goals (daily, weekly, monthly). Unclutterers need a plan, too, for without one, your activities will be scattered and you won’t have a good way of tracking your progress. To give yourself a better chance of succeeding, break your overall goal into mini-goals or action steps and add deadlines to help keep you accountable.
Unclutter every day
To get in the routine of running, new runners will likely need a bit of practice. Hitting the pavement (or the treadmill) sporadically may not help you develop that routine, so those taking up the activity for the first time are often advised to run for a few minutes every day. The same holds true for uncluttering. Engaging in a few minutes of daily organizing activities will help you to tackle the clutter and solidify a regular set of organizing habits, especially if you’re not feeling very motivated at the outset.
Use the right supplies
To avoid injury, runners must find a shoe that is not too small or too big — it must fit properly from toe to heel. Since sizes differ from brand to brand, it’s important to have your feet measured at the time of each purchase.
Just as runners need the right pair of shoes before they hit the pavement, it’s important for unclutterers to get the right tools. It may be tempting to run out (see what I did there?) and buy containers in multiple sizes and colors without giving any thought to:
- The volume of things that you’ll keep
- Where you’ll store your items
Avoid that buying temptation by first sorting and indexing the items that you’re keeping. That way, you can then find the right containers to fit the number of things you have in the designated storage location. Otherwise, purchases made without advanced planning can end up adding more clutter to your space.
Track your progress
Some runners keep a journal to look back on past successes and obstacles that they overcame. Journaling can be an inspirational tool and help you to continue reaching your goals. As you unclutter, consider writing down your successes as well as specific strategies that have worked for you. These will be helpful, particularly on days when things don’t go according to plan.
Work with a friend
Running doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. But, new runners may be a bit self-conscious if they don’t have the proper running form yet or are really slow. I suspect that people who decide to get more organized may have similar fears and be worried what their friends may think. But, when you partner with someone, the process can seem more manageable, you can get much needed help, and you may learn new strategies. Working with someone that you trust can not only distract you from the fears you may be feeling, but he/she can also help you stay focused on the uncluttering task at hand.
Remind yourself that you are an unclutterer
On those days when you’re feeling a little discouraged, be sure to keep your negative thoughts in check. If you let them hang about, this can lead to stress. Forcefully push doubts aside and remind yourself that you are an unclutterer. The seasoned runners at RunnersWorld.com recognize newbies can become discouraged in the beginning and use this quote as a reminder to turn those thoughts around: “We are all runners, some just run faster than others. I never met a fake runner.”
Over the weekend, I watched Ultimate Armored Car: The Presidential Beast and learned a lot about the security features on the President of the United States’ vehicle. It’s called “The Beast” for many reasons, including armored windows, a fuel tank surrounded by foam (so that it can’t explode), run-flat tires, along with a host of other features — all of which are designed to keep the occupants (up to seven) safe. This special car has been around since the 1930s and I suspect its specifications have improved over the years.
While most people don’t need a car like “The Beast,” you still need to be sure that your vehicle is operating optimally. There are also a few things you should do to ensure that no matter how you travel, you’ll get to your destination safely.
Keep your car properly maintained
If your car is well maintained, it will be safer to drive. You’ll need to make sure that all the parts of your car (like the engine, windows, lights, belts, tires, etc.) are in good working order. Keep with the maintenance schedule as noted in your vehicles’s manual. Not sure where to find your car’s manual? You should be able to find it on your vehicle’s manufacturer’s website if you don’t know where to locate the copy that came with your car. You can also visit Edmunds.com to get the maintenance schedule as well as the estimated costs for your car’s specific make and model (you’ll need to know this information along with the year, current mileage, and a few other details). Also, check for safety recalls at SaferCar.gov.
Before leaving for your destination, figure where you need to go and how long it will take for you to get there. Google Maps is a good resource for getting directions and alternate routes in advance (even if you will ultimately use a GPS unit). This will help you get ready and arrive on time without feeling stressed and reduce your temptation to speed or drive aggressively.
Drive only when you are alert
This tip is well known but it’s still a good reminder. Drive only when you’re alert and keep in mind that some medications can affect your vision, decision making ability, and reaction time. If you’re feeling sleepy or are otherwise impaired, do not get behind the wheel. Give the keys to someone else (who is unimpaired) or make alternate plans. And, make a habit of putting your mobile phone out of reach so that you’re not tempted to text while driving. The same goes for makeup — put it on before you leave the house, not while you’re driving.
Keep your car uncluttered
What does having an uncluttered car have to do with car safety? Well, when you have lots of things in your car, they can become projectiles in the event of an accident. Use your trunk to store things you’re traveling with (like groceries, gym bag) and keep loose items inside the console and storage compartments. Something else to keep in mind — you can also become a projectile if you’re not buckled in, so you should wear your seat belt at all times.
Clutter can be a wily and cunning opponent. Sometimes, it just seems to appear as if out of nowhere. It sneaks up behind you and overpowers you with a bit of help from long work hours, too many projects, a busy travel schedule, and a lack of sleep. But, you can turn the tables on clutter and fight your way out of its grip. By gaining a good understanding of all its nuances, you’ll have a better chance of thwarting its attempt at getting control of all your living spaces.
As you probably already know, you will need to craft and execute a plan of attack. In fact, each room in your home may need its own plan. Since the layout and furniture is likely different in each area, clutter can build up in different ways. So, be observant. Look out for how pockets of clutter materialize. Does it happen at night when you’re feeling most tired? Or, perhaps in the morning when you’re not feeling as prepared as you’d like to be? As you notice the particular ways that clutter collects, stage a counterattack. Think of specific steps you can take to stop it from infiltrating your space. For example, you might keep an “out” box for things that need to be mailed, returned, or donated. Or, you can simply use a basket to collect the stuff you bring home from work. Once you find a strategy that works, keep it in your arsenal and use it often. And, if you live with others, encourage them to do the same.
Now, keep in mind that clutter doesn’t only build up, but it can also hide from you. Somehow it knows that you’ll probably forget that bag of mail that you stashed in the closet when you had company over or the linens you threw inside the closet. It can also hide in plain sight, like under furniture, inside storage chests, and under piles of paper on your desk. Your plan for each room should include a reminder to look in places that may not be so obvious.
In a final stealth move, clutter can lurk in a place that’s perhaps closest to you — your mind. Old arguments, hurt feelings, past mistakes, and fears about the future can take up residence in your thoughts. When these negative thoughts congregate in your head, they make it difficult to follow through on your clutter-busting plans and, more importantly, hamper your ability to just feel happy. Flush them out and replace them with positive thoughts and ideas. But, be cautious. Even seemingly harmless things — like that great business idea or interesting project you’re working on — can take over during times that they need to be quiet (like when you’re on vacation or hanging out with friends). Give them attention when it’s time to focus on work and be sure to put them away when it’s time to relax, to have fun — to just be.
Arm yourself with the right tools so you can turn the tables on clutter, and you’ll soon find yourself reveling in the victory of hard-fought battle.